A post from my ancient Marvel blog concerning a tribute to the late Marvel executive editor Mark Gruenwald held at MoCCA.
Sick at home today, trying to recuperate from whatever bug I picked up while traveling. But while it was fresh in my mind, I wanted to report back on last night’s MoCCA tribute to Mark Gruenwald.
VP of Operations David Bogart and myself took a cab down to MoCCA for the event, the first time I’ve ever been to MoCCA. The space was pretty interesting, with originals and reproductions of artwork for their current exhibit on women in comics lining the walls.
In terms of turnout, while there were a few people in attendance who were there for the latest segment in Peter Sanderson’s month-long retrospective on the comics of the year 1986, the vast majority of the crowd was a “who’s who” of Marvel faces from the past. Among those who showed up (and please forgive me if I forget you in this listing, as I’m working completely from memory here) were Tom DeFalco, Mike Carlin, Bob Budiansky, Carl Potts, Hildy Messnik, Mark Bernardo, Tim Tuohy, Glenn Greenberg, Glenn Herdling, James Felder, Ken Lopez, Renee Witterstaetter, Jim Salicrup and Tom Palmer, as well as Mark’s widow Catherine and his daughter Sara. It occurred to me at one point that, had it been any of the other people in the room who had died ten years ago, such an event wouldn’t have drawn such a crowd. Only Mark could bring together so many expatriate Marvelites after so many years.
It was an evening reminiscent of Mark’s memorial, an event that I’ll have to recount at some point in the future, though words won’t do it justice. The evening opened with Peter Sanderson condensing his lecture on Mark’s SQUADRON SUPREME series and the impact it had on the development of super hero comic book themes down to about twenty minutes, so as to make room for other speakers. Catherine read from one of Mark’s old handwritten journals, a eulogy for himself that he had composed sixteen years before his death. In a virtuoso performance, Sara recounted a story Mark had spun for her about the true origins of a piece of costume junk jewelry that somebody had given Catherine at some point. Sara is studying to be a fashion designer, and is a painter, but her facility with words and language was quite adroit. She’s definitely got some chops in this area.
From that point, the microphone was opened up to anybody who wanted to recount a personal reminiscence about Mark. Mike Carlin, his former assistant and best friend, opened the night with several humorous stories. Jim Salicrup told of his and Mark’s early days at Marvel, before either of them had become well-established. Tom Palmer, the picture of dignified elegance, spoke from the heart and gave a freelancer’s perspective on Mark. Carl Potts recounted how Mark and Catherine had met (she had come up to the Marvel offices to audition to be the personal appearances She-Hulk) and what that meant to Mark. Glenn Herdling told of elaborate practical jokes that he and Mark perpetrated on the staff at various editorial meetings. One of the writers of the current Marvel Handbooks (whose name I forget offhand–sorry about that) spoke of how he encountered the original Handbooks back in the ’80s, and how that sparked his lifelong interest in the Marvel Universe. Glenn Greenberg spoke of a small and personal act of kindness that Mark had undertaken, unasked, on his behalf. And Tom DeFalco, at the urging of Mike Carlin and other members of the audience, closed out the open-mike portion of the program by telling of the many times Mark made him the target of practical jokes while they were on the convention trail–planting a gun-shaped piece of aluminum foil in the lining of Tom’s suitcase (this was well before 9/11); creating signs directing fans to Tom’s hotel room and indicating that he’d be available for autographs at any time, day or night; sealing Tom’s room with police crime scene tape, and taping all of Tom’s undergarmets to the outside wall of his hotel room for all the world to see.
After that, we went to the videotape. Mark was a habitual chronicler, and so he taped or photographed an extraordinary portion of his life. What we saw was a best-of compilation reel, focusing mainly on Mark’s convention programming, in which he’d get fans to sing a page of a Marvel comic in mock-opera style, challenge them to see how many marshmallows they could hold in their mouth at once, burst balloons with their butts, bob for comics, do impersonations of Speedball having to go to the bathroom or Dr. Strange with a wedgie, and a dozen other ridiculous things. It’s been so long that it’s difficult to remember how ridiculous Marvel’s convention programming used to be–and how much more entertaining.
Finally, as requested in his self-written eulogy, the evening ended with a friend of Catherine’s performing John Lennon’s “In My Life” on the guitar (Mark requested either a Beatles song or Ride of the Valkyries.) Afterwards, people mingled for awhile, catching up and just discussing Mark, life and the industry. The event started at 6:30 and it was close to 10:00 by the time that I finally left.
It was like a strange time machine, like stepping back into the past and re-living the Marvel-that-was more than a decade ago–a time that wasn’t necessarily better, but was at least different from the Marvel that exists today. For good or ill, that Marvel will never exist again, largely due to the passing of Mark Gruenwald.
G-Day, August 12th, the tenth anniversary of Mark’s passing, is this Saturday. I’d like to encourage anybody who has a love of Marvel Comics, the Twilight Zone, the Three Stooges or the Beatles to take a moment out to express your appreciation to the people around you who make your life worthwhile. If Mark’s example teaches us anything, it’s that you never know when your final breath will be upon you, and you’ll never again have the chance.